City Council hears Proposal on the Occupy Movement
On November 3, 2011, the day after the General Strike in Oakland, city residents packed a special City Council meeting to discuss Councilmember Nadel’s proposal to “unequivocally embrace” Occupy Oakland (“OO). I reluctantly attended the meeting because I knew that hours spent at City Hall equaled hours I didn’t spend at Occupy Oakland—where a more inclusive, practical, and compassionate form of self-government is developing.
But I went to offer myself as a trustworthy, law-abiding, Ella Baker Center-employed, witness to the atrocities that went down in Oakland. In a letter, Mayor Quan says she is conducting an investigation into the use of force, so I wanted to give her some details.
I started off by telling the City Council and the Mayor that on October 25, 2011, the Irvine City Council UNANIMOUSLY agreed to legalize Occupy Orange County Irvine. The Mayor there reportedly said, “you know what concerns me? Do you have enough blankets? Or should I get you some?” One councilmember said that he disagrees with most of what the occupiers were saying but that they clearly demonstrated that this is an issue of free speech. He said, “So if you need to sleep on our lawn, by all means, sleep on our lawn.”
That same day, I biked from my office at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to the Library. I marched with hundreds of other people who supported the OO movement’s 1st Amendment rights. I peacefully chanted with them and was inspired by a group of Oakland teachers to stay with the rally even though I was hungry and needed to go to the bathroom. When the police declared an unlawful assembly and threatened arrests and possible use of chemical agents, I backed away a few feet from the barricade to observe who was willing to get arrested for the cause. I thought that maybe, I too would be willing to get arrested if other women of color, like myself, were also stepping up.
I did not throw rocks, urine, paint, or anything at the cops. From what I saw, no one else did either. Still, I was forced to run away when I was surprised and then terrified by the loud explosions and tear gas. I wanted to go back because I saw someone fall over his bike but I was so scared and I am not instinctually a hero. Publicly speaking in front of City Hall was my way of making up for abandoning my fellow activist.
Since then, I’ve been carrying a bottle of Maalox everyday with me. I held up my bottle of Maalox/water mixture and I said, “WE SHOULD NOT HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS.” For years, we have tried to have our voices heard through the mainstream media, letter writing, advocacy groups, and community organizations. But nothing has worked. So now OO is trying something new. And the City Council should legalize it.
A handful of business owners voiced their concerns against legalizing OO. They said that it is difficult to run a business not knowing if their employees will be disrupted by rallies, BART closures, and general strikes. One ostensibly white looking woman called herself an “ actual minority” in Oakland because she was a business-owner.
Although subtle, and maybe spontaneously unintentional, that comment was identified by the people sitting around me as racist. A man of color leaned over and whispered to me, “pssh, I’m a business owner too. What’s she trying to say?”
Perhaps, a discussion of white privilege would help business-owners in realizing the practice of ironically using the word “minority” to refer to themselves in their rhetoric of victimhood is offensive. I have recently been to such a discussion where dozens of people broke into working groups to discuss privilege in the fight for social justice. That discussion was at an OO Forum.
Allowing OO to camp out will encourage more productive discussions like this. Discussions about privilege usually only occur in college classrooms and in anecdotes shared by those who have none. OO brings together people of all backgrounds to discuss these important issues—for free.
The business owner of Oakland’s beloved Everett and Jones BBQ came up as an amazingly stark contrast, physically and emotionally, to the other business-minded voices in the room. In solidarity, she fed 5,000 people during the OO General Strike. She said that if she could feed OO everyday, she would.
But Everett and Jones isn’t really near OO. And when City Council chose not to vote on Nadel’s proposal immediately, some of their reasons emphasized how much OO hurts the economy. This seemed so counterintuitive to me. I’ve been to the OO General Assemblies “GA” almost everyday since OO was first raided. As you may all know, these GA’s take a really long time so I often have to eat around Downtown and China Town. And whenever I do, I recognize other people from the GA eating there too. To me, it seems like HELLA people are consuming more in Oakland because of OO.
Of course, if your business caters to people who are so weak that they can’t even look at tents without getting repulsed, then you’re going to lose some business. But maybe catering to those people shouldn’t be so profitable anymore. Maybe that’s the whole point.
So, this weekend, I am going to interview local businesses-owners and employees to see if they really do want to shut down OO and if they think they’re losing business from it.
In fact, I already started. After the City Council meeting last night my boyfriend and I went to Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café. The waitress there said that business seemed fine and was mostly influenced by whether The Fox Theater was having a show. She said that yesterday’s lunch was normal but the night was slow. Perhaps it was because it was the first rainy day in a while. Perhaps people were just hella tired from marching for freedom and justice the day before. No one can really tell. That’s what running a small business is like. Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café did not get its windows smashed during the General Strike—perhaps because it had a sign that it was closed in solidarity with the 99%.
Then, I went to Make Westing. The bartender there said that when OO started, Make Westing saw improvements in business week by week—until October 25, 2011 when the police attacked peaceful protesters. Despite the minor setback, he said that the owner does not want OO to be shut down. He said that other small businesses around feel the same way.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Contact your elected city officials and tell then that you support legalizing OO. Instead of directing city resources to declaring and reacting to “unlawful assemblies,” – (because you know that even if Nadel’s proposal doesn’t pass, we’re going to still keep coming back)— the city should direct resources to taking care of the homeless, reopening the five schools that were closed down, and creating good green jobs that actually and sustainably make the whole city thrive.
You can also help us interview small businesses around OO. If you’d like to help out, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.