My mother never repeated the old saying to me that “you can catch more flies with honey” than with, I don’t know, catcalls? Well, my mother was a reporter and believed in “just the facts” anyway, not very homespun; but somewhere along the way I learned the basic truth of this saying.
I have not always been good at the honey part. I’ve rarely been accused of being sweet and my anger can get the better of me; but when thinking strategically, I try really hard to be patient and make my arguments persuasive.
The crowd at the public safety meeting the other night was large and raucous. It may have succeeded in persuading some council members that Bratton is not the guy to help our city, just maybe. On the other hand, it may also have convinced the viewing audience that the folks who care about police accountability are unaccountable themselves.
If you were there, you might have seen a very small group of folks who seemed genuinely unhinged do most of the catcalls, insults, and name calling. But, you would also have seen how easily influenced others were by them.
If you only heard it on KTOP or the local news, you would have thought that everyone had lost their minds. What you didn’t see were opportunities for discussions about the reality of the threat of crime and violence, much less creative solutions.
These meetings have led some council members and many Oakland citizens to repeat the myth that the folks who protest so loudly are not Oaklanders but should go back to, Berkeley or Walnut Creek, or wherever they imagine them to be from. I believe that while some young people come to town for demonstrations, and why shouldn’t they, most of the protestors are Oaklanders. Now maybe they weren’t born or raised here but so what? I wasn’t born or raised here either, and ain’t I an Oaklander?
I would guess that a lot of them are drawn by the image of a place full of radicals, artists, and entrepreneurs, plus some of the best weather and slightly more affordable housing. Are these bad reasons to find a home in Oakland? There may be another reason why many folks believe the protestors are not Oaklanders. When they speak at these meetings, they don’t seem to know our town or understand how it works and some of them seem to disrespect our long-time neighbors and activists.
Telling the city to stop closing the schools, for instance-most Oaklanders have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how our government works and know-the administration of the schools is completely separate from that of the City. So why go yell at council members about paying for the schools instead of, say, policing?
So here’s the other thing. A friend wiser than me recently told me about negotiating techniques she has learned from study and application. One of the things she said was that if you go to a meeting/negotiation to persuade someone of the rightness of your position, do not assert that you are the good guys while they are the bad guys.
First, that sets them up as your enemy and does not incline them to hear you much less work with you. The other problem with portraying yourselves as the good guys is that you then must act like the good guys since you now will be held to a higher standard. When you mess up under those circumstances, you really lose credibility. Now, if you don’t care whether the people who’re making the decisions think you’re the good guys, ’cause after all, they’re the bad guys; then consider how the other folks whom you are trying to influence will view you.
All that cursing and yelling and catcalls (meowing would come under that nomenclature, I think) haven’t won you much and may lose you a lot of potential comrades in the long run.
Here’s some other tidbits of advice from an old radical. Oakland electeds do know about the prison-industrial-complex. They’ve heard of and even voted for programs for struggling families and at risk youth, hell, some of them designed measures to support those programs; and they would rather spend more of Oakland’s precious tax dollars on violence prevention and art, and good stuff than on policing.
Another news flash-Oakland’s leaders and community activists know we have a troubled police department. Do you know how we got into a Negotiated Settlement Agreement? That’s why it’s called a negotiated agreement. The city leaders wanted to confront the problems head on and they have tried and will keep trying. Yelling at them, especially the brand new ones, who were, I gotta say, extremely patient, will not help us find a way to heal the wounds caused by bad policing.
Oh, and for you law‘norder folks-like you’re reading this!-Oakland officials also know that we need more police than we presently have. Oakland’s leaders, elected or otherwise know that our cops should come from and even live in Oakland. Since it has been determined by the courts that we cannot mandate that, they are trying to find other ways to make it happen.
If you have new solutions to our crime and violence problems, it would be wonderful to hear them. Most of us here in Oakland like the solutions you have previously posed in these meetings but we know them to be much more difficult to implement than it looks. Most of us in Oakland, and I believe this, do not want any more stop and frisk types of “solutions” to the scourge of crime and violence. We are an independent lot and don’t want our rights trampled or our youth disrespected.
I did think the speakers who gave their personal stories of police abuse were pretty effective-especially those folks who have worked out some ways to nurture themselves and their communities. Oh, and those screamers who made fun of and personally insulted city officials, speakers, etc-that came off as just plain mean. Mean only works for authoritarian solutions with cruel leaders, and most of us will react badly to that stimulus no matter who it comes from. Stop it.
Finally, we need to be really creative in these scary times of corporate control and militarization. We need, most of all, to find and nurture our humanity and the humanity of those around us to move beyond this climate of control. I don’t see creative solutions being posited in a meeting rife with scoffing and outright intimidation. In fact, I think those things are the anti-thesis of what we are trying to build here in Oakland.
So I’m asking you, please, before the next meeting, to consider ways to broaden the conversation and show everyone, including yourselves, some respect. If you’re new here and want to know how we think, well, respect is something we put a lot of weight on- it’ll get you farther than insults.