Welcome to Thanksgiving in the Dimond

Abdo Alawdi is planning on sharing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with his family-wife, six children, numerous relatives-and 250 of his closest friends and neighbors.

Mr. Alawdi, known as Abdo to most people, has been preparing massive Thanksgiving celebrations for his Dimond neighborhood for the past 9 years where he is the owner of the 2 Star Market,  2020 MacArthur Boulevard,  a shop well-known for its wine and microbrew beer selection.

The first year he offered dinner to his neighborhood, advertising it on Craigslist, only fifteen people showed up, but of the undertaking, he says that “first year was complicated, the second year got easier then easier.” He is now very used to his Thanksgiving routine-setting up a giant tent, thirty to forty-five tables, and a 150 chairs. I asked him if he ever worried that it would get too big but he responded, “[I’m] not worried, [I]would love more.”

Abdo started this tradition because he remembers how his grandfather raised him in Yemen. During Ramadan he said, “Our house [was] always open.” He described that kind of sharing, seemingly so unusual in this country, as a “benefit from God [and] a cultural thing.” He also cooks for the Dimond District Picnic in the park just up the street from his store.

On the morning of the big feast, about forty or more people show up from 6 AM on to assist him and his family, but they usually begin cooking the night before, utilizing the ovens at nearby Romano’s Pizza.

Abdo purchases at least twenty-five turkeys in addition to chicken, lamb, and side dishes ranging from rice, corn, yams, and traditional Yemeni fare. Diners often donate home-cooked food like desserts and salads. When asked how much this repast costs him, he estimated five to six thousand dollars but stressed that it comes “from his heart.”

Abdo Alawdi, owner of the 2 Star Market in the Dimond

When asked how he feels about his adopted city Alawdi told me, “[The] city is good, reputation is bad.” He has lived in his neighborhood home for fifteen years where his kids attend public schools, including Skyline High School and Laney College. When he arrived in the US, he took courses in English as a Second Language in local adult schools-most of which have since been eliminated.

If you drive up Fruitvale into the Dimond District, you will see a giant banner advertising the holiday celebration. A website designed by Alawdi just for the occasion is listed, http://www.2starmarket.com and includes his personal email-Alawdi@aol.com.

When I asked Abdo if there was anything he could use to make it easier to stage this event, he mentioned that his biggest expense comes from renting the equipment: a 75×40 foot tent, up to 45 tables, chairs, etc. He also uses multiple barbeque kettles. If anyone reading this can provide some of these things, he could probably afford to buy more turkeys and host more folks. In the meantime, take a minute to stop by this Oakland hero’s business and say hello.

You might find that the 2 Star Market has added a deli section to the store offering fresh Middle Eastern fare. And, if you need to purchase some spirits for your own home-cooked meal, consider picking them up from the man who really knows how to lift the spirits of his Oakland neighborhood.

Occupy Oakland-What’s Next for the Movement?

I am a poster child for the 99%. I am a woman, an older person with no retirement savings, and I raised two kids by myself. My kids experienced chronic illnesses as children and one of them still struggles with medical issues and the costs associated with them. I do my best to help on my part-time job.

I was on the verge of despair over the combination of economic problems, climate horrors (which can exacerbate chronic illnesses), and the war on women. I was elated when the Occupy Wall Street movement started because I really need this movement.

But I also gotta say that when someone handed me a flyer that we were gonna occupy my town, I asked why, why Oakland? We’re not a financial center and very few of the 1% live here. Hell, the director of our Chamber of Commerce lives in Tiburon.

I felt a shiver go through my body as I envisioned riots once again in downtown Oakland and little shops owned by other women and people of color being vandalized.

Then came October 10th and I was cheered by the crowd and the sense of common purpose. I couldn’t stay away and visited almost every day-raising funds for supplies, and photographing, writing, talking, meeting, and attending GA’s when I could.

I was impressed by the organization, the creativity, and the upbeat mood. In terms of the GA’s I loved the diversity of the crowd and just the fact that there was a crowd-glorious! But, I never thought that these late night, long-ass meetings were a substitute for democratic elections and rules of transparency. Politicians will always try to break the rules but because they are clear, it is possible to force them to comply.

Now, not surprisingly given the pressures on Occupy Oakland (and you can’t imagine the pressures on city officials, or maybe that’s the problem, you don’t try and imagine them), troubles- schisms, paranoia and a boat load of arrogance seem about to overwhelm our home-grown version.

It’s not just the provocateurs, some undoubtedly paid and some who believe in “heightening the contradictions” or the romanticism of revolution or the folks who think the whole thing boils down to confronting our infamous police force.

The paranoia is not surprising but it is debilitating. For instance, I attended a press conference with long-time activist and former Council Member Wilson Riles was accused, accused being the operative word, of being a member of the organization that had originally been formed to elect a grassroots candidate as mayor, the Block by Block Organizing Network. He wasn’t a member but that shouldn’t have been the point. This organization, which has its own internal contradictions and struggles, has gone on to hold a town hall in every city district.

Then Dan MacCleay, himself a former candidate for mayor, was chided at this press conference -which was being held to promote an open forum at the GA -for the having the audacity of holding it without consulting the General Assembly first, huh, what??

So what’s this movement all about and how does it relate to the rest of Oakland- a city that truly struggles under the weight of federal and state governments which continually bleed it, a city where a battle was recently won against machine politics, a city where the most creative entrepreneurial folks from around the world come to set up shop, a city where 40% of its youth don’t get to graduate from high school, and many families struggle to live and work in unsafe neighborhoods.

Leaving aside the issue- which always seems to resonate in Oakland-as to whether the young occupiers come from here-I don’t come from here- although since coming here, I have truly made it my home. We attract creative folks looking for a new way of doing things and that’s good.

And, leaving aside the terrible mistakes our new mayor has made and what her decision making process was, how much the police union had to do with how things came down on October 25th, leaving aside all that since so much has already been written about it. Even leaving aside all the posturing that has gone concerning our mayor….

Now, I want to know what kind of cockamamie process leads folks to believe this movement should be about fighting cops, denouncing locally elected officials they never even tried to talk to, and now occupying, in the worst sense, a neighborhood that was never even consulted??

And while we’re at it, why does downtown Oakland need another march? What have the owners of Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café, Oaklandish, and on, and on, done to deserve the streets repeatedly shut down around them or to live with the fear of destruction yet again? Did the GA also announce that everyone should spend enough money to make up for the folks who won’t come?

While we’re speaking of the GA, what on earth gave this shadow government the right to decide what happens in our city? Really, whoever shows up is in charge of the next stage of the movement, my movement too, even if I can’t participate in all these meetings?? Furthermore, I can’t go because I can’t tolerate the amount of smoke that billows around me.

So that leads me to another point and not a small one, I might add. Years ago when my very asthmatic son was small and I was the chief of staff to a city council man, I worked hard with the American Lung Association to make Oakland the city with the toughest smoking laws. We then went on and passed the toughest state laws. When my family would visit relatives back East, we had to put up with and live through places like planes and restaurants with smoking sections. It was horrible but smoking has been limited since then, thank the goddess.

But the GA decided, in its wisdom, to bring back smoking sections. So much for my hard work in a democratic process and so much for my comfort, not to mention that of lots of folks who are sensitive to smoke?

As many of you know by now the GA recently decided to move the OO encampment to a lot and park at 19th and Telegraph where the neighbors have not been consulted and where the city (remember that group of elected officials we get to ignore?) has decided to build a public art space.

Maybe the folks at the GA didn’t know all this stuff but now they do, and they also know that they may be splitting more folks off from the movement-the movement that some of us really need to succeed.

Folks, even politicians listen when there is an uproar, is this little bureaucracy so difficult to maneuver, so in-grown, that it can’t tell when it’s time to reassess the process and the point. Is this movement part of Oakland or will it be consumed fighting Oakland?

I believe that the next step for OO has to be particular to Oakland’s needs and desires, and no one group or neighborhood or assembly can speak for that. Many organizations are hard at work in Oakland making this a better place. Many neighborhoods are struggling. We’ll have lots of allies if we listen, consult, and begin to go out to the neighborhoods and ask how we can assist in their struggles.

When I say we, I am asserting that even if I can’t attend all these damned meetings, I’m still a part of this movement whether I am willing to pretend that the GA’s actually represent it or not.

The strength of OO was that so many people from all over Oakland came together to talk about the real issues of living in a country that is truly in the middle of a class war. Now it’s time to stop focusing on our lovely navels and move into a stage where we focus on the rest of Oakland. Give it some thought, occupiers, some of our lives depend upon it.

OO Fatigue (or is it harder just being homeless?)

Okay, I know many of us are suffering from OO fatigue. I told everyone at a meeting I was attending last night on that very subject that I couldn’t discuss it anymore. It’s perplexing that the movement that was designed to confront our frustrations at the 1%, is now frustrating so many of us.

But it does still dominate so many discussions in this town. This morning I got off the bus to attend a Public Works meeting at City Hall on a project that is being built in my neighborhood, a wonderful little plaza, as a matter of fact, where folks can gather in our charming district.

I took out my camera to snap a shot of the amphitheater that was shining in the morning sun and saw a man who I realized was experiencing a seizure. Two people were holding him so that he wouldn’t hurt himself.

As there is seizure disorder in my family, I was not particularly frightened for him so long as he was being protected from injury. After calling 911-by the way, it’s 777-3211 on cell phones so that you don’t get routed through the Highway Patrol-I asked some of the helpers to keep their voices quiet as epilepsy sufferers are in sensory overload after a grand mal and need a long period in a quiet, dark place (unlike an ambulance, but there was the possibility of other injuries).

A seemingly drunk older man who was there argued loudly with me, and a woman who was helping the man remarked that the older man was often difficult like that. The ambulance did arrive soon and take the man away.

I saw another man painting a large banner to string across the plaza demanding that Mayor Quan be recalled and that someone named Derald Harris be elected. I asked who that was and he replied, “Me!”

After the meeting I stopped at a shop on the plaza for a bite to eat and ran into some of the facilitators whom I recognized, chatting, eating, and planning. As they left I asked how they were doing, and one young man replied that he was no longer camping but otherwise still quite involved and doing fine.

The restaurant owner explained to me and another patron that she was upset that during the 2 days the plaza had been closed by the police, she’d had no business as no one was even allowed through.

This owner totally supports OO and said that these are the conditions [the OO encampment] that many people now live in all over the country. She believes it’s good that they are calling attention to so many people’s suffering. She even lets them cook some of their meals in her kitchen. By the way, the occupiers have planted a winter vegetable garden in the city planters.

Vegetable gardens are blooming at the Plaza

I walked over to Snow Park on my way home and found a bucolic scene at the little encampment there. One gentleman who now lives there told me that their group did not want to live in the crowded conditions in which many on Ogawa/Grant Plaza live. I suggested they design their own city planning codes that would limit the number of tents, and he said that they had already done that. He told me that their group sends reps to the GA’s at the plaza but otherwise have their own events and issues, like mowing the grass and taking care of the park. He said that their occupiers, like the ones at city hall, were trying to reach out to local businesses.

I asked him if he would be living in the “streets” if he did not have the camp and he told me that he had been unemployed for 8 months and no longer had an apartment. He said that if they are moved they will set up camp somewhere else.

If you look around Oakland very carefully these days, you will find many sizes and styles of encampments. This is now a reality in our society that no city council or chamber of commerce can stop or apparently prevent.

Man washes his hair in the sun at Snow Park

So tonight, I have no new conclusions to draw or grandiose answers to offer. But, it seems to me that the pressure to close down the OO encampment is building rapidly and has the possibility of taking down a very progressive, solution-oriented mayor as well as resulting in pain to those to whom it has given hope and even to those who revile it.

I keep hoping for a way out of that sad ending and it’s what keeps me visiting, talking and writing about it. I was outside in my front yard as one of my neighbors, a progressive woman who works in the public sector, was walking her dog-I asked, “So what’s the solution (I hadn’t named the problem)?” And she replied, “It’s complicated.”

Occupy Oakland, Winter’s Comin’ On…Questions for Next Stages

 

“This is what democracy looks like” is almost as good a slogan as “we are the 99%.” Those slogans represent the gist of the movement, and the way it should be organized. Some of us older supporters have spent quite a bit of time at the General Assemblies at Occupy Oakland.

I have raised funds for Occupy Oakland-I have photographed it, I have donated to it and written about it. I have been obsessed with the movement that I hope is bringing fresh recruits to our decades-long struggle for social justice. During those decades, I became as much a victim of our system as a fighter against it, but that has made me clearer about the fight we are in.

For a minute I thought that not only had the recruits arrived but that maybe it was time for me to lay down my gear and watch the fight be carried on from afar.

By the way, I’m sorry if my language is too warlike. I do apologize for that because I am a proud pacifist, a birthright Quaker (insider’s term) and a person who believes that sometimes maybe we should just sing kumbaya. But now I realize that we are in the fight of our lives and we can never lay down our gear.

I was part of the momentous, awe-inspiring moments last week when we marched over the highway to the port with thousands of our closest friends. After I began to think it was time to head home, I heard someone say, “Here comes the second wave.” I turned and saw them and I couldn’t believe my eyes-thousands of people flowing onto the overpass and down into the waiting crowd. They kept arriving for the next hour and even straggled in as I wound my way home.

I could have cried many times that day and I did do a lot of oohing and ahhing. Oakland’s visage from the area around the port represented the height of urban power-the cranes and bridges in the distance, the huge trucks and empty cars waiting for their bounty, and the train tracks curling around it all in the sunset. Added to the view of raw industrial strength was the site of human beings climbing, singing, dancing and waving signs and occupying every inch of those industrial metal “sculptures.”

A little group was playing “De Colores” on the top of the overpass just as the sun went down while a mom danced with her little boy. I returned home so elated, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Some friends arrived later; and as we talked about the day, the calls started coming in of the disturbing incidents unfolding downtown.

You all know the rest of that story. Even Keith Olberman, who interviewed our own Sean Maher of the Oakland Trib, insisted on showing footage of the fires burning and the police advancing behind a veil of tear gas. And it wasn’t some little coterie of overwrought youth who had gotten a little too energetic after a great day. Later I saw video of the Whole Foods that afternoon while the marauders attacked the very protestors who had been marching and working for a new kind of world.

So, this is what democracy looks like? That’s hard to gauge from where we stand now. After attending the City Council meeting where over 100 people spoke, most in support of OO, the CC listened patiently and responded with their own concerns about costs to the city and the potential loss of business in a town with 17% unemployment.

Most of my friends are leftists while some are liberal. [If you don’t know the difference, that’s not surprising given our willfully ignorant media, but it’s a subject for another day.] I have found a split among the folks I know who support the Occupy movement in different ways, but it’s not the split the local press has promoted.

The split I have noted seems to be between those who have a broad left overview and see the movement as a chance to change the whole thrust of politics in this country on the national stage; and those of us who are more involved in governing at the local level. We would like to see the bigger picture if we could turn away from the smaller screen on an Oakland that is brimming with broken windows, trash, and tear gas.

We, who have helped to craft budgets designed to leave something for senior centers, safe passage programs for children, and façade improvements for our small businesses, would like to see some of the funds that have been poured into port-a-potties and police overtime flow into these line items instead.

As a person who has long been a small business advocate and a leftist, I don’t believe that collateral damage is any more acceptable to a firm that supports local designers and promotes our downtown than it is to civilians caught in the crossfire in one of America’s real occupations [the term, occupation, has always bothered me for that reason].

Here’s the other thing, the movement will not survive if it is based on camping out. Yes, weather really will have an effect, and so will the diminishment of supplies and supporters, not because of their lack of belief but because they must move on with their lives.

So that means it’s time to move onto the next stage and begin to look for more allies, like the labor folks, the anti-eviction forces, and the creative groups who put up galleries, murals, spoken-word events, art murmurs, and organic farming movements in our great little town.

At one time I thought that the next stage was to use the example of Amsterdam in the 60’s and 70’s and begin squatting in empty buildings. But after Wednesday night, I’m not sure the movement can handle the destructive element in its midst, and I don’t want to see fires, no, not even little ones, in the streets.I have another concern. For those too young to remember earlier periods of student and worker movements, I am here to tell you that this is a time which may also result in our most liberal leaders- in our universities, our cities, and even our country- being thrown out and replaced by reactionary leaders.

The reaction to incidents of violence or even the appearance of lack of order was joined with the disgust over unruly police forces to produce a climate designed to replace them with “strong men.”

Make no mistake about it-these forces are waiting in the wings to remove the gutsy, hardworking Quan with their top-down managers who will immediately crack down on youth and workers alike.

Since this is a truly organic uprising, a real upwelling of anger and hope, I not only don’t have the answers; I don’t have to answer these questions as I may already be irrelevant to the process.

But, since I believe that local government represents our best chance to show what democracy really looks like, I will assert that we all have the right and the duty to participate and to consider all the elements of our community when we make decisions.

That means being pragmatic as well as visionary, reformist as well as revolutionary, and optimistic as well as skeptical.

As someone already put it, “Occupy Oakland? Thanks, I already do.”

 

 

After the General Strike, Come Out to Support Small Business Day in Oakland

Late afternoon diners on the Plaza

Oakland has some of the most successful ethnic-based small business districts in the country like a vibrant Chinatown (not a tourist mecca like SF), an expanding Latino district in the Fruitvale, and more. In fact, you could probably say that most of our small businesses are owned by women, people of color, and people who have come here from other parts of the world for a new start.

So while I heartily support a General Strike, and believe that Oakland’s example may lead us into a new form of national politics, I remain concerned about its effect on Oakland’s small local business folk.

We had been hearing- since before the attack on the Occupy Oakland encampment- that the businesses in downtown Oakland, especially around the City Hall Plaza were hurting. The afternoon before the police raid, I had been checking with businesses in the City Center Plaza and asking them how or if they had been impacted.

The deli right across 14th Street said business had dropped but that he couldn’t be sure why. Other owners and managers said they hadn’t noticed much difference, but that they had suffered due to construction that had taken place in the middle of the plaza during the height of the summer season.

Today I visited several of the businesses that border Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall. I asked the owners and managers how things had been going.

In Caffé Teatro, I found myself in the middle of a discussion about this subject between the owner and some of her customers. Mike Rufo was buying coffee and pastries. He told me that he supported the Occupy Wall Street movement and its Oakland incarnation and was there to “to make a special effort to support small businesses in Oakland.” He said he will also be participating in the General Strike on Wednesday.

Moji, the owner, who is from Iran said, “We were slow because of the encampment and the [police] closure of the plaza. People didn’t know we were open except the police.” She says that there was a smell coming from the plaza and that people indeed had been defecating and urinating more than before-even with the port-a-potties.

She mentioned another problem that businesses which depend on city employees have been experiencing. The furlough days that city employees have been forced to take, mean the closure of City Hall and a serious lack of customers on those days. Still, she says, “I agree with the idea [Occupy Wall Street] and what they are doing, but we need more business.”

Kheirya at the Plaza Café whose family is from Ethiopia and Yemen told me, “the first two weeks were slow but now, it’s much better.” She also said that the campers are organizing clean-ups, “People pick up everything [at the camp].”

I spoke with two more restaurant managers on the plaza, both owned by Vietnamese families, who felt that business had dropped after the police closure but was “picking back up.” They were taking it day-by-day.

When I turned the corner onto Broadway at the Awaken Café, I was very distressed to see that the glass door had been broken. They are in the middle of reconstruction so were not slowed because of it, but it’s still disconcerting. For now they have set up a temporary café in the Oakollectiv, a fashion destination for local designers and their aficionados.

That brings me to another topic-the possibility of Oakland businesses seeing any kind of destruction on Wednesday- even bank tellers are part of the 99%. Activities that take place in and around the banks should be very aware of their effects on local small businesses. Given the skills on display at the tense police stand-off Saturday night, I believe that protest organizers will work to prevent any negative impacts.

It’s possible that strikers will patronize small local shops this Wednesday, but since one of the demands of the General Strike is “no participation in the economy”, I’m calling for a special day to support our local small businesses.

I’m asking all of you who support Occupy Wall Street/ Occupy Oakland, or just love Oakland, to please take some of your meager earnings-we are, after all, the 99% – and spend some of it in our local shops and restaurants, cafes, services, or galleries.

If many of the visitors and campers, who come to support Occupy Oakland, would purchase lunch, a snack, a coffee, or-for those who can afford it-make an investment in local artists, that area could really thrive.

Please join me on Grant-Ogawa Plaza at one of the wonderful restaurants, cafes, or shops on Thursday, November 3rd.  Remember that Oakland’s businesses invest in and believe in Oakland, not Wall Street-and we should, return the favor.