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.

10 Comments on "Occupy Oakland-What’s Next for the Movement?"

  1. Pam…brilliant piece of writing. But like I said…they have or will take over. Why are we pandering to this group who doesnt give two hoots about our town? They dont pay taxes, they dont live here, they are bent on destroying what some of us are trying to do…IF ANY of them even think of coming up Lakeshore…..

  2. I am very sympathetic to your articulate criticism Pamela, and agree with many points. GA’s are cumbersome and problematic on some levels. But the GA’s I have attended in Oakland (some with thousands of participants) have also been very well-organized, serious, and businesslike. The GA may not be the best way to organize people or include everyone at all times. Do you have an alternative method for organizing? Small neighborhood organizations are also powerful and effective. Occupy Oakland is not stopping anyone from organizing in any way they want.

    And by the way Jeffrey Lim, I pay taxes, vote, run a small business in Oakland near Lakeshore, I live in Oakland and I occupy. I am not bent on destroying property, and neither are the vast majority of Occupiers. I am also non-violent, and don’t appreciate the veiled threat of violence in your message.
    Myles Boisen

    • Some people have suggested forming affinity groups. They could be geographically based or issue based and then coming back together in assembly once a week or even monthly as it stabilizes. The 90% is also less democratic than our state legislature. Eventually, if the movement involves more people, it has to move to representative government. I certainly don’t have all the ideas but consensus in a group that has no basic agreements and is in such flux ends up not being democratic but just easily manipulated.

  3. Thanks for this note Pamela. Seems that there is some frustration with the movement.

    I noted to @oaklandbecks on her Facebook page in regards to her counter-proposal, that the location of Occupy Oakland’s next camp is going to be problematic no matter where they decide to go. Why is one place more special than the next? Everyone is going to have a problem no matter what neighborhood they choose. Jeffrey Lim just demonstrated that with his ‘threat’ that they better not go to Lakeshore.

    Marginalizing them to areas that we aren’t as concerned about, low-income places far away from downtown, is pointless and only reinforces their message in the first place. “Sure, we will help the homeless..as long as they aren’t squatting on OUR doorstep.”

    The Occupy movement is like some red-headed step-child that is not going to be welcome anywhere. Their purpose, however should be on the 1%..and in Oakland that 1% is Downtown.

    BUT Oakland badly needs to the revenue from the 1%…and we don’t want to hurt small business.

    Sacrifices are going to have to be made. Occupy is going to have to decide, who is going to be hurt in order to serve the ‘greater good’.

    Max Allstadt stated that first and foremost Occupy Oakland should not alienate the 99% community in order to get what they want. I agree with that 100%. We shouldn’t risk losing the one source of support that we have – the community.

    • Then maybe they reconsider camping as the raison d’etre as NYC has already figured how to move beyond that-not too many of the 1% have businesses in downtown Oaklan, sigh, me and Max? Double sigh.

  4. I’m trying to understand Pam. I hear your frustration and criticism although I’m confused and sidetracked by the political references (?) about “Block by Block”, and Wilson Riles.

    In an effort to see for myself I spent a few hours today at Snow Park where much to my surprise I found about 100 very non-political folks. Very non-political. They are a beautiful rainbow of mostly homeless people who are seeking community, most are from Oakland although there were some traveling kids too. It seems they have their own frustrations and feelings of impotence about OO. Their skills in coming to agreement on most anything are totally inadequate and primitive. Their frustration about the impact of OO was different from yours, (they were mostly concerned that they be known as non-violent and communal), but similarly potent. The ones I talked with were very angry that OO had rejected Mayor Quan’s attempt to speak with them. They wanted to reach out to somoen in the City but had no clue who and how. They were holding their own GA, taking votes among eight or so of them which they are submitting to another group at another location…I assume this is some form of cumulative voting….all in prepartion for tonight’s GA in which they anticipate trying to overturn the decision made to occupy Telegraph/19th St, a decision that they thought was rammed through without proper process. Oh dear. Organizing is so damned messy.

    I guess I’m looking for the kernel of an idea that would get OO somewhere, to reinstate the powerful protest against the status quo and articulate the demons who have caused the problems. That and also an idea of what Oakland is to do with this tip of the iceberg of homeless people. It’s an ugly and sad fact of our city and while I don’t like being confronted with the failure of our City, county, state….I can’t reject their plight as not belonging to OO. They’re at the end of the foodchain. And I fear for them as our City and police force, augmented by other levels of government watch and wait for the indication they can take action…

  5. Beautiful description, Mary Ellen and actually many members of Block by Block, which started as an umbrella organization of neighbors to elect Jean Quan, have been helping at Snow Park and are trying to find an indoor location where most of them can go together. They also helped them move there when they wanted to be out of the way of the tension and impending confrontation at Ogawa/Grant Plaza.

  6. Thanks Pam for being reasonable in an unreasonable world. Reason is a slow cloud in a fast storm. The passions are running this show. That’s what it takes to spark a fire. But now we need people who know how to work with fire, the smiths, bending metal, shaping things. Our lives, you, me, our kids, are on the line. You feel that. I feel it. I really feel it. The game is up.
    We need leaders. and not the old ones. Please, not the old ones. New ones. New names, new faces, wills of steel. But reasonable.
    Hardest thing of all: Reason, damned reason, in an unreasoned, untamed world.

  7. If Pam really believes that our elections system is more democratic and more transparent than an Occupy Oakland General Assembly, then there is definitely an East Coast bridge for sale she might want to buy. Since that’s probably not the case, I think I’ll take the piece in the spirit it was intended. As a lament that the Occupy Oakland movement is treating everyone as equal to everyone else, and not recognizing self-appointed leaders of any stripe. And that’s a cockamamie process to Pam. Maybe it’s really not. Maybe it’s what we should have been doing all along so we wouldn’t be in this goddamn mess. It’s never about leaders. It’s always about engaged individuals. When we traded that for elections bought and paid for with money, we paved our own road to hell.

  8. Gee, Cathy Hayden has a bone to pick because Pam dared speak her mind about the Animal Farm like atmosphere brewing around Occupy Oakland…Anybody, who has observed a General Assembly can see that the Occupy ‘groupthink’ borders on completely dysfunctional. Read Rebecca Saltzman’s recent « Living in the O>> blog post about her experiences there trying to convince the group that the failed “occupying” attempt at 19th & Telegraph was a bad idea. Her tale includes school kids being booed at and being denied the chance to speak “Never have I seen adults disrespect youth so thoroughly” when #OccupyOakland didn’t want to hear about why the community would object to their camping fetish. It’s a good thoughtful read, full of insights from someone who tried to reason within an unreasonable kangaroo court ‘process’ >> http://evnt.biz/siCgRX

    Cathy claims in her comment that the General Assembly is some paradigm shift that will remove the ” bought & paid for elections ” that are the real problem. Granted I might be down for that, but is Occupy Oakland really the activist group capable of changing anything, other than public opinion against it?

    I wonder if she is the same Cathy Hayden that works for a landlord lobbying group here in town? That group is an affiliate of a national landlord lobbyist organization that donates heaps of cash to in a 2 to 1 ratio favoring Republicans over Democrats. These politicians include Tom DeLay, Michele Bachmann etc and the organization touts itself as an association which lobbies against rent control, and is proud of it’s fight against “socialized housing”. Seems awfully hypocritical to be claiming support of some radical street level mob demanding free access to public & private space at whim, and yet be an employee of a property management company that works with the regions largest residential 1%er property owners.


Leave a Reply