with love from Oakland

I didn’t come here expecting to participate in the Occupy movement(s). I came to strategize with Bay mates about evolving this zine mobile project into its larger vision of a traveling free school caravan. Up until a month ago, I’d mostly been avoiding all things Occupy. In part it was the words themselves… Occupy/Occupation didn’t really resonate with me… they sounded imperialistic and oppressive. But I think more what kept me away was my own cynicism and willingness to sit on the sidelines and criticize.

When I was in Madison in October, I realized I needed to engage firsthand. I tried visiting the occupation at Reynolds Park, but it’d been disbanded the day I got there. Some said it didn’t flourish because it wasn’t set up on the Capitol. That makes sense in some respects, but the park aspect is part of what drew me in. I’ve never felt a particular affinity for government buildings. I feel more comfortable in outdoor spaces like parks; and since I live and do library/media work out of a van, any action/movement starting at a place where parking isn’t accessible and free/low-cost is a challenge. I recognize that my needs are somewhat unique, especially because I’m mobile; and I also understand the need to expose struggles in central locations.

On the drive out, I heard about the Occupy Oakland downtown encampment at Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza, which is around the corner from the old Bitch Magazine office, where I worked when I lived here. A few days later, I heard about the police raid and the call for a General Strike on November 2nd.

Incidentally, I’d learned what a General Strike was when I lived in Madison and was part of an effort to unionize a store in the Whole Foods Market chain in 2003. The idea of people standing in solidarity with one another on the basis of work and labor—across occupation—seemed out-of-reach in my lifetime, especially considering how little education there is in schools or the media about the history of labor unions and workers’ rights. But I dreamed of it nonetheless—it seemed the most powerful mass action I could think of, and I felt so much joy that I would arrive in time to participate.

The morning of the General Strike, a friend and I attended an inter-faith breakfast in support of the Strike at her neighbor’s house in West Oakland. We all introduced ourselves and shared the ways we’d be participating in the day’s activities. It felt grounding and comforting to connect with people approaching this powerful political moment from a spiritual place. Some were participating symbolically because they couldn’t risk losing their jobs; most were planning on marching throughout the day. A single mom and her 14-year old daughter explained that they were striking from work and school respectively out of a basic need to survive.

After this I marched in the children’s brigade from the downtown library to the camp… And this was it, my first in-person introduction to the Occupy movement. The Library is one of the first tents I saw–

for kids!

Later that night I marched with thousands of people to shut down Oakland’s Port. When I left at sundown for El Dia De Los Muertos procession in San Francisco, I saw thousands more still marching in.

Since then, I’ve spent most of my time at the downtown Occupy camp on Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza — supporting/working in the library tent, the info tent, and walking around talking to people, listening to their stories and perspectives, mindful that I am no longer a permanent resident, but that I can offer support while I’m here.

It’s not that I necessarily feel “at home” in this movement (not yet, anyways); it’s that I recognize its profound potential. I was proven wrong in my belief that I wouldn’t live to see a General Strike. I’ve been proven wrong again in my belief that I wouldn’t live to see a day of mass movement aimed at exposing capitalism for the violent system it is. Because here we are. How could I sit this out before giving it a chance?

Last weekend I pulled the zine mobile behind the newly-located library tent, next to the medic van on the plaza, to be a resource and to offer a quiet reading space for people. I wish I’d gotten photos before the cops came and told us we’d get tickets if we didn’t move. I would’ve considered staying except that we’d also just been informed that we were parked atop a tree’s roots (I’m so sorry, tree!!).

Two days later, on November 14th, the second police raid came at 4AM—between 700 and 1,000 cops in riot gear for about 200 of us at/around the camp.

Talks are underway now for setting up a new downtown camp. Another occupation has been going on at Snow Park on Lake Merritt (19th and Harrison); as far as I know that camp is still there. This pic is from a week ago…

snow park, oakland

Meanwhile, Occupy Oakland library branches are currently being set up at local cafes and community spaces. The first one I know about is at Rock, Paper, Scissors, an awesome DIY/arts collective here in Oakland that also has a new ZINE LIBRARY!!!!

More to come!

from 11/7/11


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