I think we need an Adrenaline Junkies Anonymous here because I am one but it’s time to quit. It’s hard for me to stay away from demonstrations, but I am sick of what happens in Oakland every time something wrong goes down somewhere.
I am also sick of the reductionist memes–guess that’s what memes are by nature–that say broken windows are not violence. Technically, unless you are standing near one as it breaks, they are not. But do we really want to base our actions on technicalities?
Are most Oaklanders distraught, angry, sad, and in terrible pain over the deaths of young people at the hands of so-called public servants, those whose job it is to serve and protect whether it’s here or in Ferguson or Florida? They undoubtedly are-I see that anger, sadness, and despair all around me.
But I also see movement building, people who spend their lives trying to solve the problems of inequality, racism, injustice, and let us not forget, environmental degradation. Efforts to remake our society actually abound in Oakland. The so-called ultra left likes to put some of these folks down and make them part of the problem, but movement building is hard, life-long work and it is often difficult to notice during times of extreme stress.
So back to the meaning and types of violence which surround us. I remember attending an Occupy meeting long after the plaza had been closed to demonstrators while the City tried to reseed its commons-interesting analogies and ironies abound there-but we’ll let that go for now.
Community members who still saw opportunity in Occupy showed up to discuss next steps. They wanted to talk about how to broaden the reach of the group and expand the efforts to folks who did not want to come downtown every night, did not want take over streets, much less smash windows.
One of the OO leaders, yeah, there were leaders, belittled and sidelined those discussions, making it clear that the speakers were not welcome and those folks could no longer be considered a part of Occupy. It was a small example among many of how a once joyous, open movement narrowed to a state of annoyance or just plain irrelevance.
We’ve all heard stories of people being threatened or even hurt by demonstrators bent on property destruction as few as they may be. And that is violence. But so is bullying violence. And if you make it uncomfortable, even scary, for people to come out and express themselves on the streets of Oakland, your are promoting bullying and a type of facism that says your anger is more important and your expression of it is the one that matters. I believe that if you do not speak out about that type of exclusivity and intimidation, because, well, folks have a reason to be angry-you have muted the pain of great swaths of people.
There is also much talk about whether these folks who rough up our streets are Oaklanders or outside agitators. Here’s how you can tell. If you’ve lived in Oakland for 6 months or 60 years, you can be an Oaklander, no, being born and raised here is not the only way to be a true Oaklander.
Of course, many people have raised their families here and contributed to the local economy but additionally-
Someone who teaches our kids with an open heart and their own open pocketbook who looks for and encourages all of their talents is an Oaklander.
Someone who volunteers at a public school, who rescues neighborhood dogs, who rallies outside of city hall for tenants’ rights, who runs for office or goes door-to-door for a candidate or sets up an electoral debate is an Oaklander.
Someone who advocates for police reform and libraries is an Oaklander, who paints a mural or buys local art is an Oaklander, who plants a garden and picks up your neighbor’s trash is an Oaklander, who visits the elderly and brings them meals, or who buys toys for Oakland tots at Christmas is also an Oaklander.
Someone who protects our streets judiciously and treats those they protect with dignity and respect can also be an Oaklander.
Someone who opens a small business and puts their soul, their life’s investment, and all their energy into the Town is an Oaklander though they might not live here.
Someone who points out the bad while promoting the good is an Oaklander.
Someone who intimidates justice-seeking Oaklanders out of the movement, much less threatens to harm the delicate social ecosystems that are our recently renewed residential hubs or our long-in-coming downtown renaissance-to me that person is not an Oaklander.