Occupy Oakland

Yesterday Paradox and I went down to #Occupy Oakland—really inspiring!  It’s like a small village in front of City Hall, with tents crammed together, a big kitchen, a media tent, a library and Free School, a long list of meetings for each day, a calendar for the week—really a model of how these things might go.  The ground was layered with straw to keep down mud and pathways were laid with pallets.  There’s an ampitheater built into the plaza, where a beautiful young woman was singing on a good sound system.  A few of us were talking and noticed an older, African-American man sitting in a lawn chair kind of at our feet.  We expanded our circle to include him, and he smiled.

“I ain’t getting up,” he said, smiling.  “I’m tired.  I’m old.  My feet are tired.  But I’m happy.  This is beautiful.  People getting together, peaceful.  There’s a whole lot of healing goin’ on here.  People getting off drugs, alcohol.   Working together.”

“You make me happy,” I said.  “I want to hug you or something.”

“Hug me!”  he stood up for that, and we hugged.

We stayed for some of the General Assembly.   They did something at the beginning that I really like—an hour of what they call the Forum.  The facilitators pose a question, and people break into small groups to talk about it.  Then they open the mike for the rest of the hour for people to speak.  The question was about how we can respect ourselves and one another, and the speakers were the best theater I’ve seen in a long time, each one different:  the grinning young Asian American woman who tells us that smiling is a revolutionary act, the red-haired older woman who urges us to listen to one another, the graying leftist who exhorts us to get back to why we’re here and organize the working classes, the angy young man from the Black Panther Party who says he’s disgusted with the whole thing, that real revolution is about bloodshed and long prison sentences, and names the brothers who are still in prison from the sixties.  And many people who make simple, sensible suggestions for improving the camp, from picking up garbage to connecting with your neighbors.  Everyone gets a hearing.  And because the Forum is relieved from the necessity to make decisions, we can disagree, and listen, and take what is of value to each of us while leaving the rest.

Meanwhile I’m on the phone with a friend at Wall Street asking for advice about dealing with the drummers who won’t stop drumming and are driving the neighbors crazy—the ones who have been supportive and who persuaded Bloomberg not to evict them but who might soon change their minds.  I’m reading reports from around the country of people struggling with the same issues—how do we embrace diversity?  How do we scale up direct democracy?  How do we hold meetings that are open to everyone yet efficient enough that they don’t drive everyone out of their minds?

Meanwhile, on Sunday night the police in riot gear raided #Occupy San Francisco and confiscated most of their gear.  They have constantly been harassed and raided, and I am at a loss to explain why my own city, arguably one of the most progressive towns in the USA, is so bent on disrupting a peaceful protest.  I will do my best to get down there today and offer some support.

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