In Oakland, city council meetings and street protests are falling under new more repressive restrictions rather than the open transparent government we were promised. Are our leaders out of step with the times? This is the statement that I would have given to the Oakland City Council at Open Forum last night if I had been willing to stay til midnight.-
Council Members, since I know all of you, like many of you and respect most of you, I’m not here to denounce you-I respect your hard work. But I’m here to remind you what time it is. Some people say this period reminds them of the 60’s. But during the 60’s despite the Vietnam War, many Americans were just beginning to feel that the American Dream was almost available to them even as others rejected it. This time is different. The American Dream is a figment, a fading memory, and the planet is being devastated in a way no other generation could have imagined.
So people, especially young people, particularly young people of color, are angry but they’re also activated. Isn’t that what you as leaders of this great city, want? Haven’t I heard you complain that people don’t pay attention, don’t understand how things work. But as activists organize to protect what’s left of their city’s heritage, they often find themselves at city council meetings. As they wait, an hour or 3, they hear about the city’s business being done, but they don’t understand a lot of it– pass-throughs, grants, PLAs, CFDs, RFPs, oh, that one they have come to understand a bit.
Lots of folks, mostly young, came out and protested an RFP which was done in virtual secret, what about Housing Elements and area plans? The average resident of the, until recently ignored, Eastlake District, once called New Chinatown, woke up to a massive gentrification project and wanted in on the discussion before they found out they were probably a couple of years late.
So, they did what Oaklanders often do, especially since Occupy, they protested loudly but they took it a step further and closed down the meeting for that night. Interestingly, I thought they were more respectful than many of the Occupiers had been. They just wanted to get your attention.
Now, you’ve all decided that this kind of unruly behavior has to be clamped down on. Our bags are getting searched,which is not my no. 1 concern since it happens in so many public buildings. It irks me, makes me feel a bit like a suspect in my own city hall, but I believe my reps have the right to personal safety.
But, when I climbed those long steps to the city council chambers and attempted to enter the hall where the city does my business, I did not expect to be held back by rent-a-cops or city staff. I was questioned by a staffer last night as to whether I was really press. I don’t know am I or just a biased observer? Who decides who is press these days of blogs and tumblr?
In any case, there were seats in the main hall and the galleries were empty. This closure has never been explained. It’s true that that many times people who sat up there yelled and were rude and obnoxious. I didn’t like that either. But barring folks from coming in and filling the galleries will not stop protestors from protesting.
These are indeed tumultuous times and democracy is being put to the test. People are, you know, sick and tired of being sick and tired, but the worst thing that might happen when people come to protest is that they demagogue and speak in rumors rather than facts. This is a problem because it’s so hard to get the truth, too few reporters try to cover too much and sometimes get it wrong or don’t cover it at all.
Try this instead.Try thinking of these people as your constituents or even your students. They want to learn what the heck is going on-so the next time you pass a CFD or RFP or WTF, stop and take a few minutes to explain what you are talking about. Can’t you spare that? Isn’t that part of doing the city’s business?
As Robert Zimmerman once said, “and you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are achanging.” Don’t be “part of the problem,” the solution doesn’t lie in shutting down or attempting to control dissent, it lies in opening up what remains of our tattered democracy. There’s too much at stake to run our city as if it were “business as usual.” That’s what got us into this mess. You can’t harness the tremendous energy of the young and tap into the power of their passions by demanding that they ask just a little more quietly.
If these tactics continue many of us will stop coming altogether-and I’ll stop endorsing anyone who allows it to continue-if you care. You all say that Oakland is on the cutting edge of change so stop trying to polish our image for those who don’t love us. Be a little patient with some bad press but less patient with repression in its more insidious forms. “He that gets hurt will be he that did stall, for the battle outside is raging,” sang Dylan and it’s more true now than ever, because people have more reason to be angry now than ever. We know it’s not your fault-you didn’t create these problems, but if you you insist on contributing to a climate that is hostile to open government, you will also be rightly blamed. There will be no “shelter from the storm,” for you then.
We need leaders who are patient and caring, not prim and comdemnatory, who are bold and innovative, and we need leaders who know how to follow when necessary.
Please take a moment after you read this to contemplate the recent act of terrorism in Charleston, South Carolina and to affirm that all #BlackLivesMatter indeed.