What Is Going On In Oakland?

November 7th, 2011

Email This Blog Post Email This Blog Post Filed under: New Village Commons— New Village Press Team @ 3:10 pm

New Village sent out the following newsletter on November 4, and got so much response, we wanted to open up the subject for dialogue on our blog. Please feel free to share your opinions with us!


As you all know, something truly transformational is happening in cities across the country spurred by Occupy Wall Street. Oakland, our beloved hometown, is becoming an epicenter of this exciting new movement that is reclaiming our streets and cities and advancing ways to build a more equitable society. As a nonprofit organization dedicated to grassroots community building and participatory democracy, we celebrate this upwelling of civic engagement across the land. We embrace the questions the movement is asking and the challenges it is taking on. So we share with you a view of what is going on in our Oakland, knowing it is a vibrant part of the growing whole.

Occupy Oakland started on October 10, 2011 as protesters set up camp in Frank Ogawa Plaza, a park in front of Oakland’s City Hall. On October 25, a forced eviction of the campers occupying the plaza degenerated into a violent clash between protesters and police, which only fueled citizens’ will to reclaim public space for gathering and discussion. The encampment is now back, bigger than ever, and on Wednesday, November 2, Oakland was the theater of an historic general strike. This was the first general strike in the United States since 1946, which notably also happened in Oakland. New Village staff joined thousands of people joyfully occupying downtown for a day of celebrations and direct actions. Individuals, families, and community organizations congregated en masse to share their messages, ideas, and desires. From bandstand speeches and amphitheater general assemblies to interfaith meditations and Buddhist drummers, from anti-police brutality groups to food justice workshops, the typically quiet plaza burst with activities and resonated all day with music and chants. A multitude of people of all colors and ages marched in the late afternoon to the Port of Oakland, and successfully shut down the third busiest port in the United States.

“This is what democracy looks like,” said a banner rolled out at the Oakland port; Occupy Oakland is proof that real democracy needs practice and creative experimentation. Diversity is voiced and heard in all of its expressions. The “99%” does not speak in a singular voice. The past few days saw an outpouring of initiatives and events—mostly in the form of positive propositions and constructive protests. However, dissent has not been entirely non-violent, and anger broke bank windows Wednesday despite efforts of activists themselves to keep the peace. Rather than being a reason to disqualify the movement as a whole, we believe this diversity should be seen as the consequence of the open, leaderless nature of the protest.This movement is not perfect and does not have all the answers, because part of democracy is the process of looking for answers. Community organizations, faith groups, unions, artists, students, educators, and individual citizens are coming together to share their ideas and suggest solutions to the social and economic crises this country and the whole world are facing. A spirit of respect and mutual listening is prevailing. Hundreds of people of all ages and social origins come together four times a week after a day of work to discuss issues of common interest, signaling a new, exciting level of social participation. Our New Village staff meeting yesterday turned into a mini-assembly discussing Wednesday’s events and our feelings about them in further proof of this movement’s power to spark debates and stimulate critical thinking. The movement is teaching us ways we can work with our neighbors and fellow citizens to find local, sustainable, enlightened solutions to problems that previously seemed overwhelming.

Everyone contributes to what happens next. On Wednesday night a group of protesters occupied a vacant building that once hosted an organization providing services to homeless people (government cuts to funding for social services had forced the organization to shut down). Protesters declared that the occupied building would be returned to its previous function or turned into a public library and community center. The occupation lasted little more than an hour before police intervention. Yet this symbolic action points to one of the many possible futures of this protest: the reclaiming of our cities through the creation of community centers that can serve neighborhoods and provide a stable space for discussions and initiatives that benefit our communities. Last night, November 3, a five-hour open City Council meeting featured a lively forum for Oakland citizens and council members to discuss the future of the Occupy Oakland encampment. After listening to more than two-hundred protesters, sympathizers, and business owners presenting their views who generally urged the city to endorse the movement, the Council presented their own diverse views about large systemic issues as well as practical local considerations that included providing a dry safe place for the movement to continue its public discourse through the coming rainy season. What will happen in Oakland will depend on the deliberations of the general assembly as much as, if not more than, those of the city’s elected representatives.

We don’t all have to agree on everything this diverse movement expresses, and we invite all of you to listen to the questions being asked. As we continue an open discussion we will find answers that work for the greater good and will build a more just society for all. Please feel free to repost or forward this message to invite other members of your communities to join the discussion.

In peace and community,

New Village Press staff

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One Response to “What Is Going On In Oakland?”

  1. Eye-Witness Account of Occupy Oakland

    I live and work as a community artist in Oakland as the cofounder of a practice called InterPlay. Witnessing is an easy focus practice that involves an ability to notice with all faculties and look for the good. Particularly where there is body to body encounters and where truth telling, beauty, kindness, and stillness abound empathetic connection bonds and brings change.

    That’s what happened to me when I visited Occupy Oakland’s camp in front of city hall the day after the huge march.

    I walked from InterPlayce, with a pink sitting meditation cushion under my arm, hoping to sit with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Instead, I encountered a meeting near City Hall. A hundred people were responding to the midnight vandalism of local businesses. Occupiers were already scrubbing graffiti off of walls. Frustrations ran high. Yet even among complex concerns, people asked for non-violent solutions and demonstrations of respect for affected downtown businesses.

    Having witnessed generations of African American frustration in Oakland and people of color severely impacted by economic inequalities, this struggle for peace is remarkable. More remarkable? The struggle has tipped into the middle class. I was there. So was a well-dressed African American woman who came over, stood next to me, and said hello.

    Also next to me a vocal African American elder, with sharp features who implored facilitators to let a black speaker have his say on the Mic. His forceful comments revealed involvement and impatience with the consensual process. He was a thinking person. He offered me his chair, which I declined. I introduced myself. His name was Charles. I began to ask him questions. I asked who the facilitators were, how they were chosen and trained. He mentioned “ General Assembly” but wasn’t sure how the facilitators in that moment came to lead. He had a labor union and said that the camp labor committee was important.

    A guy handed him a cigarette. He said, “What’s that? Just a filter? That’s as disappointing as Obama.” I gestured to the small trash basket between us. “Oh, no, that’s mine,” he smiled, “my worldly possessions.” We laughed.

    Right then, someone blamed anarchists for the nighttime vandalism. A woman elder yelled, “I’m an anarchist.” Several others echoed, “I’m an anarchist! Anarchists are not the problem!” Apologies were extended.

    A strange intermix of frustration and kindness was demonstrated across racial and class differences. As a newcomer, I felt instantly included.

    Charles and I interacted with Matt, a tall lanky guy in a sweatshirt with a ball cap adorned by a peace sign sticker. He had a black canvas brief case over his shoulder. I asked how the Occupy movement communicated with media?

    “There isn’t one message or group bringing a message. It’s decentralized. I work in the kitchen as my primary service. I try to talk to media people I know off camera to help them understand.” I found him compassionate, articulate, thoughtful, an embodiment of creative cooperation with people who serve each other.

    A thirty-year-old guy wearing a green fleece sweatshirt and blue jeans came by and said to Matt, “Remember me?”

    Matt saw the stitches over his right eye and recalled seeing him in jail after the first crack down on Occupy Oakland. The new guys name was Mike.

    I listened as Matt and Mike recounted Oakland police assaulting them. Matt was asking police for peace right before being assaulted, thrown to the ground, arm twisted, face scraped, and pushed into the ground. He was not read his rights or told where he was being taken.

    “I was abducted.” He said and take to two different jails for 48 hours, moved from one fluorescent-lit room to another without a place to sleep. When he asked what he was accused of a guard went away and came back saying, “assaulting an officer.” He wasn’t told his next steps or that he could be held for 72 hours. It cost a friend $25 just to call him. Bail was the only way out.

    Mike, an Afghanistan War vet had enlisted after 9/11. This “ordinary” looking guy, medium build with a kind face and middle class bearing, said he’d been a good kid, someone trying to do his best. Mike had come to Occupy Oakland to check it out and was walking away when he was attacked from behind by police and slammed to the ground, breaking his eye open. He asked to be taken to the VA hospital for treatment that wouldn’t cost him, but they took him to the county hospital.

    He had come home from Afghanistan last year with severe injuries and PTSD and had just been jailed for showing up. Why? He did nothing violent. He wasn’t read his rights and didn’t know why this had happened. Married with two kids, he had other stories about detrimental government help.

    Matt was called away to bring food to others being released from jail.

    I saw the live streaming video online of this conflict along with 7000 other witnesses. Police had their badges and names covered by tape. Who were they? …not Oakland police. 100 people had been arrested. Less than a third were from Oakland.

    The march had inspired me to return to Occupy Oakland with a sitting meditation cushion. But, I didn’t sit on it. I just stood and listened.

    The word solidarity means, “to stand with.”

    Comment by Cynthia Winton-Henry — November 7, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

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