Friday, November 04, 2011

Occupy Oakland

There's been much brouhaha about Occupy Oakland for the past days, in particular since the police intervention last week and the general strike yesterday.  I am quite progressive and believe that the Occupy movement can bring about good for our society.  So either I'm objective or subjective, as we each can only start our thought process from our own individual point of view.  Today I've heard on the radio and read in media and notes that Oakland has sunk into violence and that the occupy movement is a shame and a sham.

I spent most of the afternoon yesterday in downtown Oakland at the occupy general strike headquarters with my 9 and 7 year old children.  We heard music and speakers.  We saw signs, posters, educational murals and a candle ridden station for peace.  We inhaled marijuana that was smoked by some.  We heard prayers offered at the inter-religious tent.  We saw babies in strollers and carriers on the parents' backs.  We saw grandparents with their grandchildren.  We saw school groups in matching t-shirts.  We saw teachers, urban professionals, homeless, students, diverse clergy and random working class folks all milling around together peacefully.  It seemed much more like a music festival or neighborhood festival than a riot or chaotic gathering of looters.  Never was I afraid - for myself or my children.

We spent a large portion of our time in line to get a copy of the silk-screened poster pictured above.  Of all the things going on it was what most interested my children - to see art happening and to see the implications and use of art.  And so we waited for over 45 minutes to get a copy.  They spent most of the time observing the artist up close, while I snaked my way through the tent city talking with others in the line alongside me.  The woman in front of me was both a grandma and an Episcopal priest who serves faith communities in Richmond and Berkeley.  The two women behind me were in their early 30s and live in Oakland while working in San Francisco.  In our talking we talked of faith, public school, hardships for urban living families, good local food places, and how justice has to be founded upon some sort of spiritual truth.  Throughout all our conversation they often asked about my kids, as we watched them from afar next to the poster artist.

While this was going on, unbeknownst to us, a few destructive vandals were vandalizing the Whole Foods Store about 15 blocks away.  The violence and destructive that was repeatedly evoked on the news reports were done by a few people who covered their faces and heads.  What wasn't reported was that the other members in the nonviolent protest crowd intervened to physically deter the few anarchist brigands.  Oakland residents know what the Whole Foods store has done for downtown Oakland and most often enjoy the sun-soaked cafĂ© tables outside of the store destroyed by a few out-of-towners who came to Oakland to destroy things.  I would advance that similar situations are what occurred when other looters smashed windows of a few bank locations.

(This is a clever cartoon making its way around Facebook this week.  
I find it to be an accurate interpretation of yesterday and
a poignant comment about media abuse of news in the name of profit)

I found the whole day quite powerful. The only time I was a bit anxious was when my children stood next to someone taking a bong hit.  Of course they undoubtedly are exposed to second hand marijuana throughout most places in California.  I took my children so that they can see what it means to take a stand for something you believe in, to see with their own eyes that you can fight for what you think is just without using weapons, breaking windows, or hurting others in particular police officers.  I didn't expect them to understand everything, but hopefully to experience something.  I asked them this morning at breakfast what they thought about the day.  Their response was "it was kind of boring."  What they most enjoyed was the ride on the public transportation train downtown.  If anything the day was a bit too quiet for them.  But at least they got their poster (even if I don’t like “hella” as an adjective or adverb).

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