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.