Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Oakland encampment swept away by police

The plaza in front of City Hall has been cleared.

I can only look at this and think "it was bound to happen." Unfortunately, when the authorities decide to try to suppress protest movements, they almost always to use violence as multiple local police agencies did with tear gas and "non-lethal" weapons in Oakland on October 26. It becomes very hard for protesters under attack to keep the focus on their real issues -- the fact that 99 percent of us are losing our democracy and our livelihoods to enrich the one percent. Instead people become trapped in screaming matches about police and local government misbehavior. At the same time, folks on the edge of the protests -- often testosterone poisoned young males -- feel licensed by police brutality to break with whatever non-violent discipline the majority of protesters want.

Meanwhile, in this out-of-kilter society, there are always people with multiple unmet needs, who will see any encampment as at least a temporary refuge. As we move into winter, the Occupys are taking in their share and more of these folks.

And then we get to what's happening in Oakland. Jan Gilbrecht has written a very insightful reflection on Occupy Oakland which anyone who wishes the movement well would be served by reading in its entirety. Here are some excerpts:

Anyone who has had regular contact with the Oakland Occupation can see that it has changed. What started out as a political effort to dramatize the failure of our current system to address the needs of the vast majority of Americans has become a temporary community dominated by the long-term homeless. As someone who is proud to have been part of the group that built the needle exchange program in Oakland in the 1990s through direct action against an illegitimate law and through effective service to the people, I spent quite a bit of time interacting with this multi-racial, diverse and sizeable segment of our community, who usually remain dispersed and invisible to the suits who frequent City Hall. This small sub-set of the 99% are an important group whose complex needs deserve to be recognized and addressed. But the truth is that very few of these needs are being met at the current encampment, and just trying to do that consumes the efforts of many and threatens to become the focus of the movement.

(These needs won’t be met in “liberated” squats either, and I doubt that the almost exclusively white, almost exclusively young, almost exclusively male people who I’ve seen advocate this would like to share space with the folks I’m referring to).

It is and has been true for too long that the City government has neglected this very vulnerable and oppressed part of our family. But I don’t hear a single voice right now raised to address some of the core things that the City Council could do to help these folks, plenty of whom would rather be in no-threshold supportive housing which would allow them the dignity of a home even as they struggle with mental illness and drug and alcohol use, the single greatest reasons that homeless people refuse available services.

I think it would be great to hear some voices raised to address the needs of that portion of the encampment who really would rather decamp elsewhere but lack the options. In the meantime, we all continue to talk around the elephant in the middle of the plaza. We get tied down in distractions, and make the dividing line about support/opposition to what is becoming an increasingly indefensible situation. And the movement dissipates.

… Nobody asked me, but I’m not sure that Oscar Grant Plaza was the best place to set up shop for OO in the first place. As opposed to the clear and cogent symbolism of the OWS location, it presumes/implies that City government is/should be the main target, and low and behold, the only thing that seems to have come of it is a completely unfocused crisis among really pretty much powerless petty politicians. (And a reminder, for those of us who needed it, that the OPD and Alameda Sheriffs are cabals of armed thugs.) ...

I think that it is time to change the subject away from the artificial and distracting crisis that is playing out downtown like some bad reality TV show. I think we need to empower and ignite the imagination of the 99% by inviting people to form affinity groups with the purpose of identifying needs created by or unaddressed by our current failed system, putting together a plan to address them in a real or symbolic way, putting it in a proposal and taking it to the GA for basic endorsement and assistance with securing the means necessary to achieve it, by occupation of appropriate targets as necessary. ...

For example, perhaps an affinity group of unemployed teachers and parents may come to the GA with a proposal to form an experimental participatory free school to address the needs of drop out high school students, with some outline of a plan to hold it and sustain it or to force the school district to eventually adopt it, etc. ...

There's serious social thought going on in and around these encampments. Let's grow a movement of the 99 percent around them!


Darlene said...

The power hungry will go to great lengths to retain their hold. I am cynical, but I suspect that the threatened 1% would not be above hiring thugs to create chaos so there is an excuse for the police to crack down; thus shutting off the protest.

Kay Dennison said...

What an inciteful (?) piece!!!! I have no doubt that the movement will continue -- too many people are hurting in this country.

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